Black farmers were intentionally sold fake seeds in Memphis, lawsuit says

Black farmers were intentionally sold fake seeds in Memphis, lawsuit says
Published: Jul. 10, 2018 at 1:28 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 10, 2018 at 5:11 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Mid-South farmers filed a lawsuit against a company that they said sold them fake soybean seeds at a convention.

A group of African-American farmers from Louisiana and the Mid-South, say that Stine Seed Company purposefully switched seeds in order to sell black farmers a subpar product at the Mid-South Farm & Gin Show in March 2017.

Despite above average rainfall, experienced black farmers saw limited soybean yield from the Stine seeds during the 2017 harvest.

"Mother nature doesn't discriminate," President of Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association Thomas Burrell said. "It doesn't rain on white farms but not black farms. Insects don't [only] attack black farmers' land...why is it then that white farmers are buying Stine seed and their yield is 60, 70, 80, and 100 bushels of soybeans and black farmers who are using the exact same equipment with the exact same land, all of a sudden, your seeds are coming up 5, 6, and 7 bushels?"

After losing millions of dollars, the farmers took the seeds to experts at Mississippi State University to have them tested. They say the tests show the seeds sold to the black farmers were not certified Stine seeds.

The black farmers said the distributor working for Stine Seed Company used labeled certified seed backs--tampering with factory sewn seals, in order to remove the certified seeds. The distributor would then sell the fake certified seeds to black farmers at a high price.

The farmers bought more than $100,000 in soybean seeds from the distributor, plus an additional $100,000 purchase in chemicals.

As for a motive, Burrell said farming is a very competitive industry and unscrupulous people see black farmers as easy prey. He said by hurting those farmers' bottom line, someone else would be able to swoop in and buy up the land that belongs to black farmers.

"All we have to do is look at here: 80 years ago you had a million black farmers, today you have less than 5,000. These individuals didn't buy 16 million acres of land, just to let is lay idle. The sons and daughters, the heirs of black farmers want to farm, just like the sons and daughters of white farmers. So we have to acknowledge that racism is the motivation here."

The farmers filed a class-action lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee Western Division in Memphis on April 19, 2018 against Stine Seed Company of the largest genetic seed trait manufacturer in the world.

Tennessee Rep. G.A. Hardaway said he will push the state government to investigate these allegations.

"We will explore the avenues--whether its civil, whether it's criminal--dealing with fraud. Those issues which have negatively impacted our black farmers, those who are in the chain of commerce in agriculture, we'll be looking at how the state of Tennessee can protect the interests of those citizens," Hardaway said.

Stine Seed Company President Myron Stine issued the following statement addressing the lawsuit and the allegations his company intentionally sold bad seeds to black farmers:

"The lawsuit against Stine Seed Company is without merit and factually unsupportable. Stine takes seriously any allegations of unlawful, improper, or discriminatory conduct and is disturbed by the baseless allegations leveled against the company. Upon learning of these claims, the company took swift action to conduct an internal investigation, which has not revealed any evidence that would support these allegations. Stine intends to vigorously defend itself against this meritless lawsuit and has filed a motion to dismiss. Our focus is on continuing to serve all our customers with the highest degree of integrity and respect that are the bedrock of our company's values."

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